Standing on solid ground

The pace of life these days can knock us off our feet. How can we find solid ground?

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Standing on solid ground

April 10, 2016 – Acts 3:1-10

 

            A couple of months ago, Vicki Hanrahan, from the synod staff, asked if I would be willing to do a workshop on mindfulness at the annual LEAD event. LEAD stands for Leadership, Education and Development.  It is an event put on by our synod that has a worship service, a keynote speaker and lots of workshops related to ministry.

            I agreed.  I told her to use the title, “Mindfulness for Lutherans.”  I wasn’t sure how many people at LEAD would actually be interested in mindfulness.  Then, when I saw my workshop was listed 27th out of 28 and that it would run during the last hour of the day, I wondered if anyone would come at all.

            I kept my expectations low.  I thought, at most, 12-15 would come.  The day before the event I learned that 54 people had signed up!  It didn’t actually turn out to be quite that many.  I know a few colleagues who left early.  But it was still a large group, much larger than I had anticipated.  They were interested.  They were engaged.  They asked good questions.

            One question was, “Why is mindfulness so popular now?”

            I responded that there were many reasons.  Seeking peace, reducing anxiety, building well-being – those are some common ones.  The fact that there are so many scientific studies about the benefits of mindfulness is also important.  But, I said, I think much of what draws people to mindfulness is the pace of their lives.  People are getting busier and busier and, just when I think they can’t get any busier.  They do.

            But it’s not just the external activities that keep us on an ever accelerating merry-go-round.  Internally, we’re having to deal every day with an avalanche of information.  If you are like me, some days it feels as though I am drowning in information. 

All of this keeps us off-balance.  It keeps us feeling ungrounded.  We want a place to stand.  We want a way that will help us keep our feet planted.  And we need it, not once-a-year or once-a-month or even once-a-week.  We need it every day.

We need a place to stand.

 

There is a man in our story today who is unable to stand.  This inability does not come from his fast-paced life, from trying to juggle his schedule, or even from his smart phone.  It comes from the way he was born.  From the moment he came out of his mother’s womb, his legs and feet have been unable to support him.  He can only be carried around on a stretcher.

Some would consider his lameness to be a sign of punishment from God for sin, either his sin or his parents’ sin.  According to the Law of Moses, because he was lame, he could never go into the temple for prayer.  But there must have been some, at least, who did not see him that way, who were willing to carry him to the entrance to the temple. There he could beg from those who were on their way to daily prayers.

Peter and John came along.  He asked for a handout from them.  They looked at him. They didn’t ignore him.  They didn’t toss him a coin and hurry on by.  They looked at him – really looked at him and held his gaze.

Peter said, “I don’t have any money.  But what I have I will give to you – in the name of Jesus Christ, get up and walk!”  Then Peter took him by the right hand and pulled him to his feet.  His feet and ankles were now strong.  He could stand on his own two feet.

Not only that, he could walk.  He could run.  He could jump.  He could dance.  And for the first time in his whole life, he could enter the temple!

 

The week before I did my workshop, I went to Columbia Correctional Institution to help teach mindfulness to a small group of men there.  More and more in the last few months, I have been impressed with the wisdom these men about mindfulness practice.  So, I decided to ask for their advice.

I told them I was going to be speaking to a group of Lutherans about mindfulness.  (I didn’t know how many at the time!)  I began by telling them that they sought to practice mindfulness in very difficult circumstances.  They live in very close quarters.  (CCI is built to house 500 prisoners, but the census generally runs about 840, so men are doubled and even tripled up in single rooms.)  Their behavior is constantly watched by guards.  (The slightest slip can earn them a ticket or even land them in the hole.)  And they have very little choice about anything in their lives. They can’t even decide, “You know, I’m tired of this prison.  I think I’ll move to another prison.”  They can’t do that.

So, I concluded, “You guys are experts.  You guys are pros at mindfulness.  What should I tell these people who are interested in mindfulness?”

They got so excited that there were other people interested in mindfulness!  They wanted me to urge them to practice mindfulness, to practice it every day, and to practice it every day for at least six months.  They were excited because of how mindfulness practice has changed their lives.  They were excited because mindfulness has taught them that, even in prison, where it seems like they have no choice, they do have a choice.  They have a choice in how they relate to their experience.  They are free in how they respond to any situation.  They can choose how they react to themselves and to other people.  And when they take stop and take a breath and observe what’s going on – and then make a decision about what to do or not to do, what not to say or not to say – it’s better for them and those around them.  It gives them a place to stand rather than impulsively or blindly reacting.

When I shared that with the people at the workshop, they got it, too.  We easily fall into the trap of thinking that freedom means being able to get in the car whenever we want and drive to whatever grocery store we like and pick one of 50 different kinds of chips to eat during whatever ball game we want to watch.  And there is a certain freedom to that.  But in the long run, it’s not very rewarding.  And it’s not very grounding.

But when we realize that true freedom comes not from anything we buy – not with silver or gold – nor anything that is external.  Rather, it comes from inside.  It comes from what Jesus has done for us and our trust in him.

Because of what Jesus has done the cross, we know that we have been forgiven.  We need not be captivated by continuous rumination and regret about the past. Because of what God has worked through his resurrection, we can remain confident about our future.  We can let go of constant worrying and wondering.  Then we can remain in the present.  Even more, we can remain in God’s merciful presence.

Then we too are free to walk and leap and jump and dance.

For the Lord is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!